A full schedule can be found here, with the notable series listed below. Overall, the Tigers really benefit from not having to travel from Tiger Park for the biggest matchups in SEC play. Even prior to conference play, it’s hard to see LSU looking bad going into SEC play when the Tigers will be favorites in most of the games. As for the specific notes of the schedule, they include...
Tiger Classic (Feb. 12-14, 5 Games)
The first of three "tournaments" hosted in Baton Rouge this year features Ohio State, North Florida, UConn, and Pacific. Although tOSU was not ranked in the preseason top-25, it did get some votes and are the toughest opponent of this crop of games. LSU’s offense should get a nice spark from an Ohio State pitching staff whose 2015 ERA was 5.31. Offensively, the Buckeyes do have four players who hit double-digit home runs last season.
UConn was bad last year and is predicted to finish in last place of the AAC. Pacific was another sub .500 squad from last year, but was voted to place second to BYU in the Gold Coast Conference. North Florida went just 31-29 last year, but seems to be due for a drop off after being voted fifth out of six teams in the Atlantic Sun.
@ Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic (Feb. 19-21, 5 Games )
This will be the toughest slate of games for LSU in the OOC portion of the schedule as the Tigers make their way to Palm Springs. The classic features #7 UCLA, #13 Arizona and #17 UCF. LSU topped Arizona in the Super Regional last year to advance to the WCWS finals, where UCLA was a participant. UCF took the AAC title last year. Also participating in the tournament is Bethune Cookman and UC-Santa Barbara.
UCLA’s Allexis Bennett and Delaney Spaulding were both named to the USA Collegiate Softball Player of the Year watch list. Arizona will be returning Katiyana Mauga who hit 24 home runs last year and drove in 76. UCF’s Shelby Turnier posted a 0.87 ERA in 2015 while striking out 268.
#5 Alabama (March 11-13)
The first real test comes on the first weekend of SEC play. Bama’s pitching combination of Sydney Littlejohn and Alexis Osorio should be just as good as Hoover-Walljasper this year. The Tigers probably have the edge on offense, with more power throughout the lineup. What the Tide lack in power they make up for in speed, including Haylie McCleney who stole 32 bases last year.
#1 Florida (March 25-26, 3 Games)
This will probably the biggest regular season series for the Tigers. Florida is looking to win the WCWS for a third year in a row, despite losing Lauren Haeger who led the Gators in strikeouts, ERA, home runs hit, and RBIs. Still, with Aleshia Ocasio and Delanie Gourley returning, plus the No.1 recruit in the country Kelly Barnhill, the Gator pitching will be elite. Kelsey Stewart, Taylore Fuller and others will ensure the Gator lineup is still dynamic.
@ #12/14 Georgia (April.1-3)
Another team with a strong 1-2 pitching combination, Chelsea Wilkinson had 266 strikeouts last year which led the SEC while Brittany Gray had 2.20 ERA. The offense is potent as well, ranking second in the SEC in runs per game. Georgia returns Alex Hugo whose 22 home runs were good for 12th nationally. Georgia also has some speed with Cortni and Sydni Emanuel combining for 67 stolen bases.
This team is championship caliber. Offense. Check. Pitching. Check. Experience. Check.
Last year’s Tigers were good, entering the season ranked 19th and ended up having two separate stints as the number one team in the nation. Unfortunately, the Tigers would lose five of their last eight regular season games and then lose their only game in the SEC Tournament, which was hosted in Tiger Park. Even with that somewhat flat ending, the Tigers still made it to the WCWS and came within a game of the finals.
This year, the Tigers won’t be sneaking up on anyone. LSU ranked at No.3 in the pre-season poll is the best pre-season raking in program history. That ranking is not an accident. The goal is a championship. Beth Torina is hinting at it. The players are talking about it. Juanita is openly bragging about it (Probably. I’m not a marine biologist). Pre-season championship aspirations are in no way subtle. To be clear, winning a championship is hard, but winning in the SEC is even tougher considering most of the conference is already ranked in the top-25 with several other schools just outside the poll. The regular season and postseason will be a challenge, but one LSU looks prepared to conquer.